Monday, February 23, 2009

Discovery @ Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Eighty eighth Discovery Posting:

Bukit Time Nature Reserve (武吉知马自然保护区), a place where one can climb/walk to the tallest point of Singapore (at around 164 meters), in terms of non-man-made structure, was our destination last Sat. However, our objective wasn't the tallest point but around the reserve to explore and learn about the plants found in the reserve. Together with the Central Catchment reserve, both places are great places to learn about plants which occurs in primary and secondary forests as they house around 840 species of flowering plants and 80 fern species.

And our first 'discovery' of the day is a plant which flower looks like a mini microphone, the petai ,Parkia speciosa (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. This plant is better known as the plant which produces stink beans.
2. Stink beans are popular in southern Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia and northeastern India.
3. According to Wikipedia, they are best when combined with other strong flavoured foods such as garlic, chill peppers, and dried shrimp, as in "sambal petai" or added to a Thai curry such as Thai Green Curry.
4. Read more about it @

The second 'discovery' is an interesting plant which I will give more details as you read on. Btw, this plant is Gutta-percha, Palaquium gutta (pictures below).

Top view of its leaves(picture below)
Bottom view of its leaves and a view of its golden-colour like underside (picture below)
Discovery Note:
1. Before rubber trees were tapped comerically for their latex around our region and probably some others, the latex from the gutta-percha, was tapped widely and used to produce the protective covering of submarine telegraphic cables in the mid 1800s.
2. Collection of latex from the gutta-percha back then sadly did not include only tapping but also through the felling of these species of trees.
3. And another interesting fact is that a section of the Bukit Timah forest was maintained as a gutta-percha plantation until the early 1900s.
4. This is why one can find a certain number of these plants clustered in parts of Bukit Timah.
5. Read more about this plant @

One plant which you might not find unfamilar to sight is this licuala palm, third 'discovery' (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. You don't find it unfamilar as many Licuala species are popular ornamental plants for gardens and indoor decorations.
2. In the indigenous communities of the Malayan rain forests, the leaves of these palms are used to make roof thatching, hats, umbrellas and even to wrap food.

As we walked around, we came across this interesting sight and was told by LK that the cauliflower-like things are the female flowers of the Baccaurea parviflora (picture below), fourth 'discovery'. And some time later, we came across the male flowers of the same plant (not so clear picture below).Discovery Note:
1. The flowers of this plant are unisexual, this means at any one time on one plant, the flowers are either all male or female.
2. The trees, on the other hand, are dimorphic. *If I am not wrong, this means that the trees can morph/change to either male or female.* <-- According to LK, this should be wrong. So I did some search online and found this. Thanks, LK!
Dimorphic can mean
a) Flowers that appear in two forms in the same species, on the same or different plants.
b) A creature or plant that is highly variable between male and female. Easily distinguishable features such as color or size make the identification of the sexes very easy.
3. The female flowers are found borne in spikes from the base of the tree.
4. The male flowers are cauliflorous on knobs to a height of about 2 meters and more.
5. You might be wondering why the flowers of this plant is found around the stem, a phenomena unlike many other plants which you might have seen before. According to what I know, by being in a low position as you see in the photos, forest animals can easily reach these flowers and feed on them and thus aid in pollination.

As a few of us have done guided walks in Bukit Timah, they took turns to teach the rest of us (including myself) on some of the commonly-seen plants in the reserve and probably other forests also. Here's one, the leaf litter plant, fifth 'discovery' (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. The leaf litter plant has an interesting way to gather additional nutrients.
2. From the left picture above, you can see dead leaves trapped between the leaves of the plant.
3. These trapped dead leaves in time will decompose and become additional nutrients for the plant.
4. This source of nutrients is important for the plant as the forest floor is often nutrient poor.

The last plant I will feature today, sixth 'discovery' is the mousedeer plant (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. One main reason why this plant is called the mousedeer plant is because the mousedeer is known to consume the plant's fruits.
2. This plant also has an unique leaf structure. A closer look is available on the right hand side of the picture above.

All in all, it was a great way to spent the morning. However, if you are interested to visit the place. Do keep some things in mind:

1. Keep to the trail as to minimise the trampling and damage done to the flora.
2. Do not venture to trails which are closed. On the day of our trip, we saw a few people walking into closed trails. This is bad for two reasons, one, they are risking their safety as the trail may be closed due to safety reasons. Two, sometimes trails are closed for the regeneration of flora found near the trail and this is not possible if people continue to enter the trail.
3. Keep your voice and walking volume down. This is to cause minimal disturbance to the animals found in the reserve and at the same time, it increases your chances of sighting an animal during your walk.
4. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.
5. Do not feed any animals. For example, as a result of feeding, some macaques are known to snatch food from humans.

Of course, don't forget to enjoy your walk while you are there. =D
PS: Thanks to everyone who went and made this trip another enjoyable outdoor session.

a) Read more about the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve @ and

b) For a more comprehensive 'virtual' guide to the place, visit

c) Read WQ's entry for the trip. It consists of many plants which we saw. It's @

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Discovery @ Sentosa on 9 Feb 2009

Eighty Seventh Discovery Posting:

On the just past Monday, together with G, we visited Sentosa. Actually this was suppose to be some sort of a reece trip for an upcoming eco-camp, but I used this chance to also to take a long-awaited look at the shores of Sentosa again. Especially the area where the construction of the Sentosa IR is going on nearby (picture below).
If you look closely at the photo, you will spot a huge barrier like object. I suppose that is a barrier set up by the developers of the IR to prevent silt and other particles from destroying the life found on the side I was exploring. And I have to say it is working to quite a good extent, as most of the corals which I have seen before the development began are still around (I might be wrong in this, so do feel free to amend on what I have written here).

And first 'discovery' is two different species of hard corals (picture below). Despite going through some training on the ID-ing of corals, I still suck at it...anyway, Discovery Note:
1. Corals are animals.
2. They belong to a group of ancient and simple group of animals known as Cnidarians (pronounced as "nai-day-rians") Jellyfishes and sea anemones are also from this phylum Cnidaria.
3. Cnidarians are aquatic and they share a common and unique feature of having stinging cells used for protection and catching of prey.
They are generally composed of more than one tiny animal, probably tens / hundreds / thousands of them in one coral structure, that's why you have heard of "Coral Colony".
5. These tiny animals are called polyps which feed on microscopic plankton or small organisms.
6. Coral hosts colourful zooxanthellae algae in them.
7. These algae form a symbiotic relationship (one which they help one another) with the corals.
8. Through photosynthesis, these algae generate "food" for themselves and pass the extras to the coral which will help to the coral to grow into a larger colony. In return, the coral provides a "home" for these algae.
9. Thus, corals are usually found in clear and shallow waters, as sufficient sunlight is essential in photosynthesis.
10. Read more about hard corals @

As I walked around the area, I soon came across a little heron (ID made known to me by Nov, thanks!) and it's second 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. Little herons' diet mainly consist of small fish and crustacea (mainly crabs). That explains why I saw one at Sentosa.
2. They also feed on amphibians and insects and any other edible tidbits, including small mammals.
3. They tend to roost alone (stay alone) and are highly territoral.
4. Read more about them @

A surpirse find of the day would be two sand dollars, third 'discovery' (picture below).
Discovery Note:
1. Living sand dollars are coated in fine, harmless spines that made them very velvety.
2. The spines are movable and are used to dig into the sand or move around.
3. The dense layer of spines also helps to keep off sand and silt so there is a flow of oxygenated water across the body.

4. Read more about them @

I especially love walking along this stretch of the Sentosa shores... (picture below)
Reason being that I can look at the interesting rock structures created by the waves and the weather (picture below). After walking pass one of my favourite parts, we came to another part of the natural shore on Sentosa and bumped into two teachers from RJC who were reecing to check if the place is suitable for a biology class session. It's heartening to hear that they are thinking of introducing this part of Singapore to their students, as not many students know that our waters are actually very much alive.

The exploration soon continued and soon came the fourth 'discovery', a fan worm (picture below).Discovery Note:
1. They are segmented worms like earthworms.
2. The feathery things are actually its modified tentacles which helps it to gather food.
3. They feed on detridus and other micro organisms in the seas.
4. Read more about them @

Although there was no slugs sighting, there were a number of crab sightings though, fifth, sixth and seventh 'discovery' are crabs.

A Hairy Crab (picture below)
Discovery Note:
1. The hairs of the hairy crab traps sediment so it blends 'almost' perfectly with its surroundings.
2. We also call this crab the ‘teddy bear crab’. =)
3. The hairy crab eats seaweeds and poisonous zoanthids, which makes the crab mildly poisonous too!
4. This is NOT the same hairy crab you eat as a seafood.
5. Read more about them @

A red egg crab (picture below)
Discovery Note:
1. Red Egg crabs are highly poisonous and contain toxins which are not destroyed by cooking.
2. Since other animals don't particularly want to eat this crab as it is poisonous, it is slow moving and doesn't really bother to hide.
3. Read more about them @

A mosaic crab (picture below)
Discovery Note:
1. This is one of the most poisonous crab in Singapore.
2. Thus, I give the strongest advice not to eat this, although biologists say that everything can be eaten once, but they do not mention what will happen to you after that meal...
3. Did I mention that the toxins cannot be 'destoryed' by high temperature...
4. Read more about them @

As they always say, time flies when you're having fun. Thus very soon, it was time to leave the inter-tidal zone to avoid being washed away by the waves and also the time to enjoy a beautiful sunset (picture below).PS: Thanks to G for the company and making the trip laughter-filled. =D

Monday, February 9, 2009

Semakau Inter-Tidal Walk on 08 Feb 2009

Eighty Sixth Discovery Posting:

Banded together with a group of 'turtles', we (including myself) were out at Semakau for its first public guided walk in 2009. Here's a group photo of everyone and Diana, my 'lovely' assistant of the day (picture below).
Due to personal time restrictions, I have chosen some of more interesting things seen on the day by my group. And if you are interested to discover what other things other visitors saw on this trip, I have include a extra section with links to blog entries on this very same trip.

Anyway, down to this posting, our first 'discovery' of the day is this extraordinary sea hare (picture below).Discovery Note:
1. From what I know, they are herbivores. This means they eat sea grass or maybe even sea weed.
2. They have the ability to eject purple ink when in danger or stressed.
3. There is an interesting account by ST on how he found this sea hare. If you are interested, you may visit

And our second 'discovery' are a number of sea stars. Here's one of them covered in partial shade (picture below).Discovery Note:
1. Their tube feet are interesting as they are used for walking, handle food as well as breathing, and probably to catch prey as well, talk about multi purpose!
Sea stars get stressed when out of water, this is because while we have blood circulating our bodies, they have sea water circulating their bodies.

They are not as common as their name suggests. This is due to past over-collection and habitat lost past and present. So don't take them away from their homes when you see them. =)
4. Some sea stars are predators that prey on worms, crustaceans and bivalves while some are known to eat decayed plant matters.
5. Many sea stars eat with their stomach outside their body. When doing this, their tube feet will pull the two shells of a bivalve apart. And while still attached to their prey’s body, they extend their stomach out through their mouths into the bivalve shell.

6. You can read more about them @

Our third 'discovery' of the day is a relative of the sea stars, a sand fish sea cucumber! (picture below)
Discovery Note:
The popular Chinese name for sea cucumber is haishen, which means, roughly, ginseng of the sea.

2. They have a soft, wormlike body and can range from a few centimeters to even 90 centimeters in length!
To repel predators or when stressed, a sea cucumber might expel their innards or ‘vomit’. And if too much of their innards are expelled, they might die off as a result.

4. Read more about this sea cucumber @

And presenting our fourth 'discovery', which is a creature we haven't seen for quite a while on Semakau (drum rolls...). May I present to you, the heart cockle (picture below)!

Discovery Note:
1. If you take a closer look, you will notice that the opening of the valves 'cuts' through the center of the heart.
2. Some turtles were saying that the heart cockle is in a state of 'heart-brokeness' when its valves are opened...hahaha...
3. Anyway, you can read more about it @

We were also really lucky to spot the yet-to-be identified sea star again. Fifth 'discovery' (picture below).

Guided walks have always been made easier due to the hard work from our hunter seekers. And we have to give them great appaulse for finding this tigertail sea horse (picture below). Sixth 'discovery'.Discovery Note:
1. They are hard to find as they are well-camouflaged.
2. Do you know that a seahorse is actually a fish? Yes, it is, but instead of having scales, they have an inflexible armour of overlapping bony plates.
3. A seahorse cannot swim faster because it doesn't have tail fin and pelvic fins like other fishes, thus it is well-camouflaged. But they can make a short burst of speed if in danger.
4. They may look harmless, but they are actually quite voracious predators. It sits in wait and ambushes on any tiny animals that drifts or wander by.
5. They have a very simple digestive system (no stomach) thus they need to eat almost constantly. Baby sea horses are known to eat thousands of tiny shrimps in a day!
6. And of course, the most well-known fact of the sea horse is that the male can get 'pregnant', this is because the female seahorses lay eggs in the pouch of a male seahorse and it is in their where the eggs will be fertilized and then the male seahorse will carry them till the eggs hatch.

7. Read more about it @

Seventh 'discovery' is a flat worm... (picture below)

Discovery Note:
Flatworms are hermaphrodite, which means a flatworm has both the male and female sex organs.
And certain species of flatworms engage in penis fencing, in which two individuals fight, trying to pierce the skin of the other with their penises; the first to succeed inseminates the other, which must then carry and nourish the eggs.

3. Read more about them @

And the last but not least eighth 'discovery', I decided on eight as it was still during the Chinese New Year on the day of the walk, is a polka-dot nudibranch or called as cookies and cream by one of the turtles...hahaha (picture below).

Discovery Note:
'Nudibranch' means 'naked gills'. The name comes from the flower-like gills found on the back of many nudibranchs. These nudibranchs use the gills to breathe.
Nudibranchs are related to snails. Little baby nudibranchs are born with shells, but they lose them when they become adults.
Most nudibranchs are carnivores, they eat immobile or small, slow-moving prey. Examples are sponges, ascidians, hard corals, soft corals, sea anemones etc.

4. To protect themselves, some produce distasteful substances, toxins and even acids. They advertise this with bright warning colours. Others are camouflaged to match their surroundings. Those that eat colourful creatures such as sponges or corals, may themselves be colourful to match their prey. Being small and flat, they can also easily hide in narrow places.
5. Read more about them @

Lastly, here's a group photo of everyone with the knobbly sea star (picture below). Thanks to R for helping us to take this photo. =D

And of course all turtles! I hope you had a wonderful and fulfilling trip!Extra (more blog entries on this same walk):

a) Tidechaser's blog entry @

b) Sy's blog entry @

c) KS's blog entry @

Monday, February 2, 2009

Discover Ubin on 2 Feb 2009

Eighty Fifth Discovery Posting:

A bumboat ride to the destination? Check.A sight of how a kampung might look like? Check.
A day spent away from urban landscapes? Check.A close-up experience with nature? Check.The above mentioned are experiences which you can bring home after a trip to Pulau Ubin, a small island situated in the north east of Singapore.

Why is the island called Pulau Ubin?
According to what I know, 'Pulau' should be the Malay term for island. (update!) And according to SD, 'Ubin' means tile. Thanks SD! (update!) And the word 'ubin' is said to be a Javanese term for 'squared stone'. Together, 'Pulau Ubin' literally means "Granite Island" in Malay.

This name describes the island very well, as there have been fair amounts of granite found on the island itself. And granite quarrying, at one point in the 1960s, have managed to support a few thousand settlers on the island.

Today, only about a hundred villagers make their homes on the island and the visitors of the island do not go to the island for mining purposes but mainly for recreational purposes.

Things I can bring when visiting Ubin.
Well, besides the usual items you bring for an outdoor field trip (water, hat, poncho/umbrella, etc). You might also want to bring a camera to take records of the happenings and interesting flora and fauna you see along the way.

And a binoculars can come in useful at times as well. Well, for example, with a pair of binos, you will be able to look at birds like a grey heron (picture below) more clearly. By the way, this is the first 'discovery'. Discovery Note:
1. The grey heron is one of the largest birds one can find in Singapore.
2. It can stand at about 1 meter tall and have a wing span of about 2 meters.
3. Grey herons have long necks and powerful bills for a long and strong reach.
4. They can stand motionless for hours to wait on the mud or at the water's edge to wait for food to pass by.
5. Their diet usually includes whatever they catch. These can include, fishes, amphibans, insects, crabs, small mammals and reptiles like rats or hatchling turtles, etc.
6. Read more about them @

Well, as you know, whenever you visit anywhere, there are things which one can do and one should not. Let's look at some things one shouldn't do when visiting the island.
a) Please leave your litter in the rubbish bins provided found around the island. By doing this, you can help to keep the surroundings free of unwanted litter.
b) Keep along the paths and trails shown on the maps. This is important, as you do not want to get lost on the island and at the same time cause minimal distrubance to the wildlife found on the island.
c) Talking about causing distrubance, you might want to minimise any form of noise so that the wildlife will not be 'scared' off.
d) For your own safety, do not touch flora or fauna that you are unfamiliar with. This is because some flora when touched may cause irritation and some fauna can leave a painful bite or even poison you.
e) Please also do not take anything away from the natural environment unless it is litter. =D

Do take a close look around where you walk because you might miss some wonders along the way if a closer look is not attempted. Here's an example, a golden orb web spider (picture below) and this is the second 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. This spider might not be the the largest spider but it does make one of the largest and strongest web.
2. The silk of the web is so strong that it is able to trap small birds, something the golden orb web spider doesn't really eat.
3. The strength of the web is comparable to Kevlar, one of the strongest man-made material which is extracted from concentrated sulphuric acid.
4. Its name is derived from the colour and shape of its web, golden and orb-shaped.
5. Read more about this spider @

Besides walking, one also has the option of exploring the island on a bicycle. A bicycle can be rented at the village of the island for from $2 onwards. But do look out for your own safety when cycling around the island, as there are several steep slopes found around the island (picture.
If you are a butterfly lover, Ubin would be one of the places on your list of must visit places throughout a year. On the day where we walk around, we sighted about a total of 10+ species of butterflies and some of them considered uncommon or even rare in Singapore! It is a pity that my camera isn't a top-notch camera, so I only managed to get one decent photo of one of the butterflies we saw. Here's a Tawny Coster (picture below) and the third 'discovery'.
Discovery Note:
1. From past records, it seems that this species of butterfly is an migrate from Thailand and West Malaysia. Read more about it @ (updated the link with thanks to Commander for informing me that the link I provided was updated =D )

And if you are lucky enough, you might even get to see insects which are considered endangered. Here are three Thespesia Fire-bugs (picture below) and fourth 'discovery'.Discovery Note:
1. This bug looks similar to the Cotton Stainer Bug, except that it as a black head instead of a red one.
2. They are found on the Portia Tree as its larvae feed on the seeds of the tree.

Chek Jawa, located on the eastern end of Ubin, is one of few places in Singapore where you can find 6 different ecosystems within a small area. These ecosystems include mangroves, coastal forest, rocky shore, coral rubble, seagrass meadows and sand bars. And with the offer of many different 'homes' comes the wide array of flora and fauna living in these different 'homes'. Combined with the media coverage given to the place throughout the years, Chek Jawa has become one of the main attractions on Pulau Ubin.

There are several ways to get to Chek Jawa. Like the other places on Ubin, you can get there by walking, cycling or taking a van taxi there (a ride to and fro usually cost at least $4 per person depending on how many people there are in the taxi). And if you are tired after the walk or cycle or just looking for a place to pinic, how about the colonial looking house no.1 located at Chek Jawa (picture below)?
Now let us take a look at one of the animals you can find in the mangroves of Chek Jawa and other mangroves, a giant mudskipper (picture below)! Fifth 'discovery'.Discovery Note:
1. Mudskippers are amphibious animals. So they are able to breathe on land and underwater.

2. Underwater, mudskippers breathe through gills like other fishes. On land, mudskippers use their enlarged gill chambers to retain water which aids them in breathing on land. Something like a scuba diver’s air tank, only that this work while on land.

3. Mudskippers also have to regularly replenish the water in their gill chambers so they cannot stay far from water.

4. Mudskippers can also breathe air through their skin like amphibious but they can only do that if their skin remains moist. That's why you might see mudskippers taking water dips at times.

That's about it for this post which I tried to give you a virtual tour around the island (not really an indepth one though =D). So before I end, here's a picture of a wild ixora blooming (picture below), another plant found on Ubin.
Oh, I almost forgot. How do one get to Ubin?
First of all, find your way to Changi Village. Look for the ferry terminal there. And at there, they provided bumboat rides to Ubin and back. Fyi, each ride cost SGD$2.50 (at this moment of writing).

Now, that's really all and thanks for reading!

PS: Thanks to all friends who made the trip enjoyable!

More flora and fauna sightings of this trip can be found on